Speaker sheds light on DuBois’ past

Danny Cozzi

DeKALB | Arthur McFarlane, great-grandson of historical icon W.E.B. DuBois, gave his first key note speech at the age of 12. Soon after, he passed out backstage.

“Maybe I should have gotten some sleep and eaten the night before,” McFarlane said. “And maybe a little breakfast in the morning. But I didn’t.”

This first speech, followed immediately by his fainting spell, was the forefront to his extracurricular tours to teach students about the history of his grandfather.

McFarlane spoke on Tuesday in the Duke Ellington Ballroom at the Holmes Student Center about W.E.B. Du Bois’ life and legend. He gave a brief timeline of Du Bois’ early life and what his great-grandfather was like.

DuBois graduated from high school with a class of 13 students in 1884. He then attended Fisk University, a black college, in Nashville, Tenn., and graduated in 1888 with a class of five students.

From then, McFarlane said DuBois attended Harvard. He was the first African American to graduate, as well as earn a Ph.D, from the university.

McFarlane also spoke about his great-grandfather’s later work. DuBois published the book “Suppression of the African Slave Trade,” the first published work regarding the African slave trade.

McFarlane also discussed slavery and its purpose within the United States before it was abolished. McFarlane said within one year, enough slaves were brought over to America to populate a town the size of Galveston, Texas, home to roughly 57,466 people, according to a 2005 Census.

McFarlane also brought up the term “channel slavery,” which he described as being a type of slavery in which the slaves were considered as property. McFarlane and the audience present discussed today’s relative slavery to everyday obligations and restrictions, giving an example from Du Bois’ life.

DuBois had a son named Burghardt who died as an infant due to a respiratory disease that was left untreated. McFarlane said he died not because the black doctors in the area were unable to treat DuBois’ son, but because the white doctors who were able to help refused.

McFarlane said that after Du Bois’ son’s death, Du Bois left for Philadelphia to write “The Philadelphia Negro,” published in 1899, which sought to present a strong case of African American urban life with a focus on health differences between whites and blacks.

McFarlane said DuBois’ also co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NCAAP).  McFarlane said this was the premier organization for racial equality which led the fight for the right to vote, equal educational opportunity, health care improvements and the fight against lynching and discrimination.

McFarlane concluded his speech with the story of the death of his great-grandfather. DuBois passed away one day before the March on Washington, which he and the NCAAP helped organize. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at this event.